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Channel Matters Blog > April 2015 > Channel Sales: Selling the Experience

Channel Sales: Selling the Experience

by Stan White
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The other day, I saw a statistic that said 78% of Millennials would choose to spend money on an experience over a tangible product. At first the idea seemed a bit strange, perhaps because I come from a generation that valued things you could touch: a car, a house and 2.5 kids. But after I gave it a little more thought, I decided that the attitude of the Millennials isn't all that different from the attitude of most buyers today.

How many times do you hear a buyer (or maybe even yourself) say something like:

  • I will never buy from them. Their salespeople are obnoxious.
  • I like their product, but their service department is horrible.
  • Every time I try to get an answer to a question, they give me the runaround.
  • I don't think their salespeople are really listening to what I'm saying.

It's all about the experience

I wish I had a statistic on this, but I think it's pretty safe to say that most customer issues that have a long-term impact on customer satisfaction and retention are about service rather than product. After all, it's pretty easy to fix or replace a defective product. And unless you have a track record of selling "lemons," customers will usually give you a second chance if you addressed their product problems with a minimum of hassle. Even if they didn't like an old version of your product because it lacked the features they needed to solve their problem, many will be willing to try again with the new and improved version.

It's harder to fix the customer experience. But like the Millennials, today's buyers (of all ages) buy based on their experience. Perhaps they always have. One of the first lessons I learned in my sales career was to try to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy from you. This is especially true if you're selling something that needs replenishment or servicing on a regular basis. After the initial contract is negotiated, you may end up working with fairly low-level purchasing agents or end-users. While at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy, these individuals often determined whether or not the contract gets renewed every year.

Selling the whole product

In the channel consulting work I do, we talk a lot about the "whole product." Whole product is the critical components for each market that support, promote and make your product both compelling and rewarding to the end customer through each stage of their buying cycle. Most of the time, we're talking about ensuring we have the right mix of partners to deliver a solution to the customer, including sales, implementation and service. Of course, we also need to factor in demand generation and ensure that, between our internal efforts and those of our channel, we're generating sufficient opportunities to meet our goals.

But that thinking is still very inside-out. That is, we're looking at the features needed to deliver a solution to the customer (and make our numbers), but not what our customers experience as they pursue their objectives with our product. We need to ensure that our chosen path to market provides an experience that will keep them coming back. Of course, we need to look at more than just the buying stage of the sales cycle and the implementation process. Customer experience begins the moment the customer starts searching for a solution by chatting with another customer, speaking with one of our customer service agents or searching for a solution on the web. 

Retention needs to be thought of as a bi-product of a masterful channel plan and its successful execution in the field. I recall a discussion with one of my clients who was excited that they had just found a willing partner to represent their Talent Management Software suite and what a great opportunity it was going to be for their company to establish a footprint in Australia. I asked to hear about his proposed plan and was not surprised to learn that territory, margins, product training and training support between the two organizations was for the most part roughed out. What was sadly lacking was the voice of the customer and what they needed for success. How they would measure their experience and determine the value of the solution and the brand? It was a nearly devastating mistake for their brand and their reputation as a partnering organization.

The only way to get a full understanding of the customer experience is through the customers themselves. Even though they have direct interaction with customers, your channel partners may be just as in the dark about the experience as you are. Or, if they are the problem, they may not be so eager to own up to it. Customer retention statistics and satisfaction surveys will help identify opportunities to improve, but only the anecdotal data will give you the details you need to know where to begin.

Finally, I probably don't need to remind you that focusing on the entire customer experience is no longer optional since the advent of social media. I'm always amazed at the kind of complaints that can fit into 140 characters or less and still leave room for a hashtag. On platforms where customers have more room for comments, even one bad experience can do a significant amount of damage to your reputation.

Target markets are tighter and more communicative than ever. Once you have targeted an audience for your products or services it is absolutely essential to understand what you have gotten yourself into in order to ensure you are clear on whole product requirements and responsibilities to deliver an experience that will have your customers coming back and inviting others.

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